Harvard University finds itself at the center of a discrimination lawsuit claiming Asian Americans are unfairly penalized based on their race. Where is the outrage from the Left?
Fifty-five years ago this month, just three months before he left this life, President Kennedy was asked a question that had great significance in the decades ahead. It was about “job quotas by race.” He responded:
“I don’t think we can undo the past. In fact, the past is going to be with us for a good many years. … I don’t think quotas are a good idea. I think it is a mistake to begin to assign quotas on the basis of religion, or race, or color, or nationality. I think we’d get into a good deal of trouble. Our whole view of ourselves is a sort of one society.”
It didn’t work out that way. Here’s a thumbnail of the history. In the later 1960s and 70s affirmative action with its “goals and timetables” was pushed by the executive branch under the leadership of Presidents Johnson and especially Nixon. The legislative branches never sanctioned it and it was generally voted down in ballot initiatives in states like Michigan, Washington and California in later years.
The position of the courts was more ambiguous. In voting to uphold affirmative action in a 1978 case that gave birth to the related diversity movement Justice Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee suggested that in ten years, perhaps affirmative action would be unnecessary. However, it stuck.
Exactly 25 years later in 2003 Justice Sandra Day O’Connor a Ronald Reagan appointee voted to uphold affirmative action but suggested that in twenty-five more years, perhaps it would be unnecessary.
The current most prominent affirmative action controversy has to do with Asian-American parents suing the New York public schools because of their belief that subtle quotas restrict the numbers of Asian Americans in the city’s elite public schools. A similar law suit is going forward at Harvard. It alleges that Asian-American applicants must have an SAT score several hundred points above Black applicants to have an equal chance to get admitted to Harvard.
And it’s not just Blacks. Last year the “New York Times” reported: “A Princeton study found that students who identify as Asian need to score 140 points higher on the SAT than whites to have the same chance of admission to private colleges, a difference some have called ‘the Asian tax.’”
Asian-Americans are being heard. Professor Chunyan Li, a professor of accounting at New York’s Pace University: “Asian-Americans have been viewed as the ‘model minority’—you know, quiet and well-behaved. But when we see the effects of social engineering on the future of our children, we can get nasty against the politicians too.”
The Trump administration backs the Asian American ‘s law suit at Harvard.
That suit claims that whereas admissions officers score Asian Americans higher than students of other races on academics and extracurricular activities, they rank them lowest in a “personal” category that covers such traits as “attractive to be with, humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership.” These ratings occur in a context in which admissions officers never meet most applicants.
All of this is more out of kilter when we recall that “Asian-Americans” are themselves a very diverse group with roots in countries as diverse as the Philippines, the southeast Asian countries, Japan, South Korea, China, Pakistan Bangladesh and India and often intermarry with members of other groups and come from different religions – ie, people from South Korea trend Protestant; people from the Philippines, Catholic; Japanese Americans are more secular.
In our view Harvard is most certainly practicing affirmative action which under certain (confusing) criteria is within the bounds of the law. They are also adding to the process a number of non-quantitative factors to get what the university calls a more “holistic” assessment of applicants.
Court papers claim that the “holistic part” of the process “consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like ‘positive personality,’ likability, courage, kindness and being ‘widely respected.’” As the “New York Times” reports: “The suit says that Harvard imposes what is in effect a soft quota of ‘racial balancing.’”
I am sure that this will be challenged in court. The university president has said the plaintiffs to the law suit relied “on misleading, selectively presented data taken out of context. Their intent is to question the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process and to advance a divisive agenda.”
According to a “Times” report, Harvard admits about 20 percent Asian-Americans but one study concludes that the number would be over 40 percent if the standards were based on high school academic success, test scores and extracurricular activities. The law suit challenges both the holistic part of the process and the overall affirmative action program because the plaintiffs believe they cap the number of Asian-Americans.
We question government-ordered human resource standards on private institutions but we also question the use of the subjective assessment of vague personal qualities when its effect is to keep out Asian-Americans. If true, it is very troubling if Asian-American applicants are rated down on “courage” and “kindness” disproportionately by admissions officers.
Prediction: The holistic assessment will be scrapped and the affirmative action program will remain to muddle on. But in our view affirmative action has by now worn out its usefulness.
It is sometimes hard for conservatives to acknowledge the history of racism but it is also hard for liberals to acknowledge the changed circumstances in the fifty-five years since JFK’s time.